Milwaukee is on pace for a 70-win season and again owns the Eastern Conference’s longest winning streak entering the week, taking a three-game surge into Tuesday’s contest at New York.
The Bucks have won an NBA-best 18 games in succession already this season and survived injuries that has led to absences of their top three players, including MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks lead the NBA in margin of victory and now have a clean injury report to work with.
Milwaukee was 27-10 at this stage of the season last year and ultimately won 60 games, but it has definitely taken a step forward this season in becoming the overwhelming Eastern Conference favorite over the past few weeks. Milwaukee was a 5-to-6 (-120) choice after opening the season at 5-to-4 (+125) at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and deserves that designation. The Bucks championship odds have been trimmed from +600 to +350 and they should be lumped in with the co-favorites, L.A.’s Clippers and Lakers, (+250), due to their easier road.
I’ve been writing this for weeks: the gap has been closing, so the time to act on any championship futures appears to be now. Barring an injury to Antetokounmpo, the odds won’t be getting any better.
With Eric Bledsoe back to run the show and dominate game at the point of attack defensively, the Bucks are more formidable than ever. Backup George Hill continues to lead the NBA in 3-point percentage and has been one of the most improved players on the offensive end in the entire league.
Khris Middleton should be an All-Star again, while Donte DiVincenzo, who you probably remember from his run winning a national championship with Villanova, has bounced back from an injury-plagued rookie season and is a blossoming into a terrific glue guy. Shooting specialist Kyle Korver is on board as another weapon the Bucks can plug in alongside a stretch-four like Ersan Ilyasova, surrounding Antetokounmpo with shooters at every turn.
Although Milwaukee squandered a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals last May in being eliminated by Leonard and eventual champion Toronto, it did win a pair of playoff series for the first time since 2001. That experience, combined with the awful taste that the Bucks were ultimately left with, has been a driving force in them hitting the ground running in posting the league’s top record.
Antetokounmpo’s back problems are a concern, but the fact that they’re taking a cautious approach with him is a fantastic sign, especially since they’ve continued to win games without him. Although the 76ers are formidable and teams like the Celtics and Heat have taken dramatic steps forward, the Bucks look like a great bet to come out of the East. You need to get on that if you haven’t already.
With Philly’s Joel Embiid sidelined by neck and back injuries, Ben Simmons has been tasked with keeping Philly afloat alongside Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris. Philadelphia is formidable but remains decimated.
One thing we’ve seen that looks pretty clear is that the Bucks will get at least two All-Star spots given how effective both Middleton and Bledsoe have been in battling back from injuries. The Bucks’ point guard has long had a reputation as a standout defender but he’s found a new threshold of late, dominating on that side of the ball.
Magic at Clippers: Doc Rivers faces his former employer and the Clippers are going to be motivated after starting the week with just a 6-4 record in their last 10. Orlando also began the week 6-4 in its last 10 and the Magic have a lot to play for as they’re battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East. But they’re just 6-13 away from home. CLIPPERS
Clippers at Pelicans: Yes, L.A. hits the road in what will be a nationally televised matinee on ABC. Expect Kawhi Leonard to play in this one while the host Pelicans will try and capitalize on their recent surge of good play. They had a nice road win over Detroit Monday night, 117-110. Still, the Pistons are not the Clippers. CLIPPERS
Pacers at Nuggets: We love the Pacers getting points in Denver. Point guard Malcolm Brogdon has returned to action for Indiana and the Pacers started the week just one game below .500 on the road (9-10).
Yes, it’s a game at altitude and yes, Indiana plays at Utah the following night. But I expect a big effort here. PACERS
Last week: 1-2